The Forgotten Twentieth-Century

Ordinary Europeans long trusted elites with the business of democracy – and even seemed to prefer unelected elites. If they now want to modify the social contract, change ought to be based on a clear, historically grounded sense of which innovations European democracy might really need – and of whom Europeans really trust to hold power.

BERLIN – It has been 20 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which for many historians marked the real end of the “short twentieth century” – a century that, beginning in 1914, was characterized by protracted ideological conflicts among communism, fascism, and liberal democracy, until the latter seemed to have emerged fully victorious. But something strange happened on the way to the End of History: we seem desperate to learn from the recent past, but are very unsure about what the lessons are.

Clearly, all history is contemporary history, and what Europeans, in particular, need to learn today from the twentieth century concerns the power of ideological extremes in dark times – and the peculiar nature of European democracy as it was constructed after World War II.

In some ways, the great ideological struggles of the twentieth century now seem about as close and relevant as the scholastic debates of the Middle Ages – especially, but not only, for younger generations. Who now remotely understands – let alone takes the trouble to try to understand – the great political dramas of intellectuals like Arthur Koestler and Victor Serge, people who risked their lives for and then against communism?

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/MvNUvFh;
  1. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Angela Merkel’s Endgame?

    The collapse of coalition negotiations has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a stark choice between forming a minority government or calling for a new election. But would a minority government necessarily be as bad as Germans have traditionally thought?

  2. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.

  3. A GrabBike rider uses his mobile phone Bay Ismoyo/Getty Images

    The Platform Economy

    While developed countries in Europe, North America, and Asia are rapidly aging, emerging economies are predominantly youthful. Nigerian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese young people will shape global work trends at an increasingly rapid pace, bringing to bear their experience in dynamic informal markets on a tech-enabled gig economy.

  4. Trump Mario Tama/Getty Images

    Profiles in Discouragement

    One day, the United States will turn the page on Donald Trump. But, as Americans prepare to observe their Thanksgiving holiday, they should reflect that their country's culture and global standing will never recover fully from the wounds that his presidency is inflicting on them.

  5. Mugabe kisses Grace JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

    How Women Shape Coups

    In Zimbabwe, as in all coups, much behind-the-scenes plotting continues to take place in the aftermath of the military's overthrow of President Robert Mugabe. But who the eventual winners and losers are may depend, among other things, on the gender of the plotters.

  6. Oil barrels Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images

    The Abnormality of Oil

    At the 2017 Abu Dhabi Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, the consensus among industry executives was that oil prices will still be around $60 per barrel in November 2018. But there is evidence to suggest that the uptick in global growth and developments in Saudi Arabia will push the price as high as $80 in the meantime.

  7. Israeli soldier Menahem Kahana/Getty Images

    The Saudi Prince’s Dangerous War Games

    Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is working hard to consolidate power and establish his country as the Middle East’s only hegemon. But his efforts – which include an attempt to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon – increasingly look like the work of an immature gambler.